In an era defined by imminent climate change and global economic challenges, the convergence of environmental and economic sustainability has become a crucial aspect of sound business practices.
As ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) principles gain global prominence, companies are exploring avenues to align with these goals while ensuring seamless operations. A powerful and increasingly popular solution is leveraging the capabilities of cloud technology. However, the pathway to sustainable excellence through the cloud is more intricate than meets the eye.
Globally recognised cloud providers Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure have committed to environmentally conscious goals. AWS aims to use 100% renewable energy by 2025 and achieve net-zero carbon across their operations by 2040. Azure also aims to use 100% renewable energy by 2025, targets zero-waste and water positivity by 2023, and achieve net-zero deforestation from new construction. Notably, both companies have already taken significant steps toward these goals, with AWS infrastructure proving to be highly energy-efficient.
Oracle and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) have set similar sustainability goals. Oracle leads the way by recycling and reusing 99.9% of retired hardware and powering 100% of its European data centres with renewable energy. GCP, already carbon neutral, aims to operate on carbon-free energy 24/7 by 2030.
Cementing this move towards sustainable practices, cloud providers are among the top purchasers of renewable technology and energy in the world – think wind farms and solar energy.
Implications for businesses embracing the cloud
Sustainable data centres, a hallmark of cloud providers, offer dual benefits. These centres not only often return power to the grid through alternative sources but also significantly reduce the carbon footprint of businesses. According to Werner de Jager, managed cloud services (MServ) executive at BBD, partnering with hyperscalers like GCP or AWS results in automatic savings, contributing to a business’s ESG goals while minimising costs.
Advancements in virtualisation and software-defined infrastructure also helped make big leaps into decreasing the environmental impact of producing and running physical infrastructure. The rise of hyperscaler services and orchestration capabilities further accelerated this by providing the ability to consume at a micro-transaction level instead of running physical / virtual infrastructure 24/7.
BBD software engineer Victoria Bench says, “Auto-scaling, serverless technology and right-sizing are concepts that underpin cloud infrastructure and enable businesses to optimise their energy consumption by utilising only the resources they require in real-time. This ‘modernisation’ approach eliminates wasteful consumption from constantly powering resources catering for potential peak usage.”
Buying into these services also means that businesses utilising the cloud are joining a collective effort to apply good environmental practices that are inherent to the cloud provider operating models. Another aspect to this is how utilising the cloud can help organisations move towards better business sustainability and continuity – another pillar of overall sustainability, which speaks to economic growth and job creation.
The cloud’s role in business sustainability
Global market intelligence firm IDC predicts that by 2024, 45% of organisations worldwide will deem business and environmental sustainability considerations to be crucial for their technology buying decisions, and that by 2025, 85% of organisations will see a 35% increase in sustainable efficiencies using software and cloud-related infrastructures.
Echoing this importance, Bench mentions fault tolerance and disaster recovery (DR) within the cloud. De Jager agrees and remarks that through various geographic zones and well-designed infrastructure, organisations can leverage these capabilities to ensure that their business continues to run smoothly without having to worry about a natural disaster or system failure. He says, “This not only brings peace of mind, but an opportunity for businesses to remain sustainable more easily.”
AWS and Azure provide services that simplify application deployment automation processes and subsequently eliminate toil, meaning employees can focus on value-driving initiatives rather than repetitive tasks. This helps spur organisations forward and enables businesses to stay competitive while ensuring continuity.
This focus on value-driving tasks has an added benefit: another pillar in sustainability is that which speaks to people – the Human pillar. By offloading cloud-related tasks to specialists, or your cloud enablement partner, businesses can create space for their employees and IT teams to concentrate on more meaningful, purpose-driven work instead of tasks that ‘keep the lights on’. This means employees are more engaged, committed, innovative and accepting of transformational change as a business grows.
The three sides of sustainability
Doing our part to help the planet feels good, but from a business perspective, sustainability can be looked at from three lenses. The first two we’ve discussed: positively contributing to the global climate crisis; and harnessing the best value employees can add with good ESG practices and policies that promote value-driven activities and purposeful work. The third relates to the cloud itself: FinOps.
FinOps is a practice where you assess the resources you’re using in the cloud alongside your spend, ultimately seeking to understand how you can either decrease spend leaving your resources utilised untouched, or decrease the resources used to reduce your overall spend. It fits into the overarching pay per use model of the cloud, where you only pay for what you need, and relates to how well you’ve architected your setup.
Tightly associated with FinOps is AWS’ concept of Observability where you surface what your actual costs are and where they stem from, and then use the Well-Architected Framework to assess if your workloads are architected as best as possible for the cloud.
The ideal situation for any organisation is to modernise and optimise their architecture as far as possible, and then leverage the purchasing mechanisms that most hyperscalers have. AWS, for example, has mechanisms that save customers up to 75% of resource costs compared to the on-demand instances that the majority of customers use. Achieving these kinds of savings requires an understanding of the business infrastructure, applications and workflows, as well as the funding and purchasing mechanisms available from providers.
“The strength of any good building lies in its foundation,” says De Jager. Implementing cloud environments requires cloud architects to step in and design a solution that will deliver on expectations and requirements. Architects want efficiency, because it makes the cloud environment more effective and efficient, and enables it to be more sustainable in the long run.
So efficiency equals more sustainability. But how do you do it in practice?
“As an AWS Advanced Tier Partner with a designation in the Well Architected programme among others, as well as experience across both AWS and Azure, we embed our solutions with architectural and FinOps best practices,” says De Jager.
The AWS Well Architected Framework has six pillars of focus: operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, cost optimisation, and sustainability.
The sustainability pillar within the Framework looks at the long-term environmental, economic and societal impacts of a business’ activities through six design principles:
- Understand your impact
- Establish sustainability goals
- Maximise utilisation
- Anticipate and adopt new, more efficient hardware and software offerings
- Use managed services
- Reduce the downstream impact of your cloud workloads
Well-Architected Reviews use the above principles to assess and observe where an organisation currently lies, and the resultant report is often beneficial when needing to report back on business sustainability.
As a partner who can provides Well Architected Reviews, BBD’s cloud team use the framework to assess and understand a business’s cloud infrastructure to provide remediation suggestions to make it all more efficient, more cost-effective, and ultimately more sustainable. “It’s at this point where we look to modernise or re-engineer using the likes of microservices and containers to squeeze every last drop of efficiency from the cloud for your business. From there, the cycle continues – we observe, remediate, modernise.”
When businesses partner with the BBD, it ensures experts assessing and improving their current architecture, as well as maintaining, monitoring and modernising their multi-or hybrid-cloud going forward. “Helping companies implement solutions that are both good for their business operations and good for the world around us all is important to our teams,” concludes De Jager.